January 6, 2023

Voice of the Church will again illuminate debate at Statehouse

By Victoria Arthur

When state lawmakers return to downtown Indianapolis on Jan. 9 to begin the 2023 General Assembly, the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) will stand ready to speak for the most vulnerable and shed light on the key issues of the day.

The opening of this year’s General Assembly will occur just months after an unprecedented special session of the state legislature that saw Indiana become the first state in the nation to enact a new law extending legal protection to unborn babies.

As it did during the summer session and as it has for more than five decades, the ICC will draw upon 2,000 years of Catholic social teaching to influence the debate on important issues and legislation.

“The ICC is the public policy voice for the Catholic Church in the state of Indiana,” said Angela Espada, executive director of the ICC. “Simply put, we advocate either for or against proposed legislation in line with the long and rich history of Catholic social teaching. As always, promoting the common good and protecting the most vulnerable members of society form the basis for the Church’s engagement in the public arena.”

Protecting human life from conception to natural death remains the most pressing of the Church’s priorities—and, therefore, the ICC’s. A pivotal opportunity arose on June 24, 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had declared a constitutional right to an abortion, returning regulation of the procedure to the states.

The high court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization served as the catalyst for the special session of the Indiana General Assembly from late July to early August that culminated in the passage of groundbreaking legislation significantly limiting abortion. Senate Enrolled Act 1 banned both surgical and chemical abortions with some exceptions.

They include pregnancies resulting from rape or incest (within 10 weeks of fertilization), and in cases of lethal fetal anomalies or to save the life of the mother (up to 20 weeks post-fertilization).

In addition, the measure terminated the licensure of all abortion centers and required abortions to be performed in hospitals or surgical centers owned by hospitals. Historically, nearly all abortions in Indiana have taken place in abortion centers, such as those operated by Planned Parenthood.

Senate Enrolled Act 1 went into effect Sept. 15 and was almost immediately challenged in court by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Indiana Supreme Court has taken up the case against the legislation. Hearings in the case are scheduled to begin later this month.

During the 2023 legislative session, the ICC will continue to serve as a voice for the unborn while also advocating for other key issues across the pro-life spectrum.

“We will redouble our efforts to fight for the dignity of life at all stages,” Espada said. “This includes opposing assisted suicide and striving for an end to the death penalty in Indiana. We also will continue to encourage lawmakers to fund programs that support mothers, babies and families, especially as historic inflation disproportionately affects the most vulnerable among us.”

Last summer’s special session, which also provided Hoosiers with relief from soaring inflation, included the allocation of $45 million to support pregnant women, postpartum mothers, babies and families.

Fiscal concerns will top the agenda for this long session of the General Assembly, held every two years and culminating in passage of the state budget, likely in early May.

As in past legislative sessions, the ICC hopes to see a long-overdue update of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF is a federal government program that provides grants to the states for distribution to families in dire economic circumstances. Because of outdated state guidelines, the $288 maximum monthly cash payment for a family of three in deep poverty has not been adjusted for inflation since 1988.

Much to the dismay of the ICC and other advocates for the poor, proposed legislation to update TANF has been passed over in the General Assembly.

“Even though TANF money flows to the states from the federal government and is readily available, Indiana has not offered an increase in monthly payments for the neediest of the needy in more than three decades,” Espada said. “With inflation continuing to grip our economy, we need these changes more urgently than ever.”

Other key priorities for the ICC that remain constant include supporting religious freedom and protecting the ability of families to make the best decisions for their children’s education.

“There are so many other issues that fall under the umbrella of the common good,” Espada said. “The Church, and therefore the ICC, will continue to promote the dignity of workers and care for creation, for example.”

In all its efforts, the ICC calls upon the Catholic faithful to stay informed and engaged on key issues and legislation and offers numerous resources to do so. The ICC website, www.indianacc.org, provides access to I-CAN, the Indiana Catholic Action Network. Those who sign up for I-CAN receive action alerts on important legislation and ways to contact their elected representatives.

The recently revamped website also includes access to a podcast hosted by Espada and Alexander Mingus, associate director of the ICC. In a recent podcast, “Faithful Citizenship,” the two discussed the duty and responsibility that Catholics have to bring their faith to the public forum.

The ICC now has parish liaisons throughout Indiana to assist with communication and advocacy efforts but can always use more, Espada said. Information about the liaison role may be found on the website. In addition, Espada and Mingus welcome the opportunity to visit parishes to discuss their work and Catholic social teaching, which guides everything the ICC does.

“As we begin another legislative session that will affect Hoosiers in so many ways, we invite and encourage the faithful to partner with us in our efforts,” Espada said. “In doing so, we can truly amplify the voice of the Church.”

For more information and ways to get involved with the ICC and its mission, visit www.indianacc.org.

(Victoria Arthur, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, is a correspondent for The Criterion.)

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